As student loan debt reaches a national high of $1.2 trillion, Tennessee has responded by offering free tuition for low-income students attending community colleges.
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Concern has surfaced among educators and economists that the increase in the cost for higher education is leading new high school graduates to question whether a college education is worth the cost.
“Financial aid was supposed to reduce the influence of existing family financial resources on college attainment, but those resources are now a stronger determinant than ever of children’s college prospects,” wrote Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of education policy and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in her paper “Redefining College Affordability: Securing America’s Future with Free Two Year College Option.”
Tennessee's Legislature responded this year by offering two years of college for free to low-income students, who might not otherwise have a chance at an education.
"Students being able to say, 'I know I can go to college' changes the discussion dramatically," John Morgan, Tennessee Board of Regents chancellor, told The Tennessean. "Then students, instead of worrying about whether they can afford it, can worry about their classes."
Tennessee Promise is similar to Tulsa Community College’s program Tulsa Achieves, which was created in 2007.
"We established Tulsa Achieves …," Tom McKeon, Tulsa Community College president, told NPR, "because we no longer believed that a high school diploma was sufficient in terms of the jobs of the future."